Friday, June 15, 2012

Personal freedom > data > straw man

Greg Mankiw linked to an article arguing in favor of maintaining funding for the American Community Survey (ACS).  Mankiw and the article's authors make the silly claim that opposition to the survey has something to do with ideology.  The article even draws parallels with Argentina prosecuting those who estimate inflation to be higher than the official estimate, and Greece going after the head of its statistical agency for not cooking the books.

Not that they could be bothered to look it up, but opposition to the ACS arises because those selected to participate are required by law to do so, under threat of thousands of dollars in fines.  The survey asks for information that many would prefer to keep to themselves.  Other people simply resent being threatened with legal penalties if they refuse to participate.  Surely economists can recognize that there are limits to how intrusive their data collection should be, and surely they shouldn't be so ignorant as to think that economists' research needs trump personal freedom.

The ACS is a terrific resource and I'm glad that it exists. But we use many data sets (almost all of them, really) that were not collected under threat of legal penalty. Maybe we can make do with an ACS that is not so obnoxiously collected.